The future of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport remains in doubt as government discussions continue for the comprehensive spending review (CSR), planned for 26 June.
Asked on Tuesday whether she was ‘about to become the secretary of state for no department’, culture secretary Maria Miller said that the idea of DCMS being disbanded was ‘possibly one of those extraordinary rumours’ which, she said, always occur around spending reviews.
But Miller’s opposition shadow, Dan Jarvis, has told CM that he believes discussions took place last summer ‒ and are now taking place again in the run up to the CSR ‒ to disband a department ‘that has been run down to the level that it is barely viable in its current form’.
A week after tweeting about the issue, Jarvis remains convinced that the option has been seriously discussed.
He cited the DCMS’s losing its own premises and slashing of its staff as part of 50% cuts ‒ as well as the retirement of its permanent secretary, Jonathan Stephens, and the fact that it now houses one fewer minister ‒ as indicators that ‘there is no doubt it is on a downward trajectory’.
Disbanding the department would be taking ‘a very big risk’ in order to achieve ‘some very minor short-term savings’, he said, while losing representation for arts and culture at cabinet level.
‘We believe in the value of having cabinet-level representation for culture and the arts because we think they are central to the lives that people lead ‒ they are important. They deserve that recognition and representation at the cabinet table and we think it would be a mistake to get rid of the department.’
Maria Miller was speaking at the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year awards on Tuesday evening, broadcast on Radio 4, when she said she would be ‘absolutely astonished’ if the CSR spelled bad news for the DCMS. She said there was no need for ‘special pleading’ on behalf of the arts as they had a very strong economic value in their own right, ‘whether that’s the way that they underpin our creative industries, which is now one of our growth sectors in terms of exports, [or] the way they underpin our tourism sector, again which is one of our large and growing parts of our economy.’
‘I know that right from the top of government there’s an enormous commitment to making sure that our culture and our arts sector and our heritage sector are well supported into the future,’ she said.
The discussion is framed by chancellor George Osborne’s aim to cut government spending for 2015/16 by £11.5bn with the CSR. In her first high-profile speech as culture secretary Miller urged the cultural sector to focus on the sector’s economic value, an announcement hailed by some as a throwback to the Conservatives’ attitude to the arts of the 1980s. Perhaps especially for classical music, this approach may be in certain ways a non-starter.
‘What I’ve consistently said is that public money that is invested in the arts is scarce resource, wisely spent,’ Dan Jarvis told CM yesterday. ‘The reality is the taxpayer gets a very, very good return on the money UK government invests in the arts.’
‘There are other very important reasons why we continue to spend public money, of course: the arts are central to people’s lives, it’s something that gives us identity as a country, and it is a hugely important mechanism for developing young people.’